Opposition mounts against public TV cuts

Joel Mills
January 31, 2010
Lewiston Morning Tribune

A steady flow of opposition is lining up against Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter's proposal to eliminate state funding for Idaho Public Television.

Jerry Evans, Idaho's public schools chief for 16 years and a board member of Friends of Idaho Public Television, is taking the lead.

"To me, this whole situation doesn't make any sense at all," said Evans, a Republican. "We have invested, over 40 years, a significant amount of money into a public television system that serves Idaho very well. For us to turn our back on that is totally irresponsible."

Six of the nine state lawmakers in the Lewiston Tribune's circulation area said they oppose the proposal, either in whole or in part. They include Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston; Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston; Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow; Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow; Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; and Sen. Leland (Lee) Heinrich, R-Cascade.

Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston; Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly; and Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, did not respond to requests for comment.

Rusche said IPTV is an important part of what ties Idaho together.

"The present proposal to make it 'user pay,' even though IPTV provides tens of thousands of dollars of service to the Legislature, seems unwise," he said. "If it goes forward, it is difficult to see how rural areas and northern Idaho will maintain the service."

Otter has proposed phasing out over four years the $1.5 million annual state contribution to IPTV, with a renewed drive for private donations taking up the slack. IPTV Director Peter Morrill said that model would likely lead to the scaling back of service to rural areas, which don't have the population base to support increased fundraising.

Paul Agidius, president of the State Board of Education that oversees IPTV, said the network is already outperforming its national peers in the fundraising arena.

"So I don't think you have the ability to really rely much more on that," Agidius said.

Agidius said he, too, is worried about IPTV pulling out of rural areas if its funding is cut. But, he added, if full state funding for public television is maintained, the Legislature will just cut the budget somewhere else.

"You do have to look at the big picture," he said.

Heinrich said he has gotten statements of support from many constituents who watch nothing but public television.

"Their programming, and coverage of the Legislature, needs to be preserved," he said. "So some type and/or amount of funding must be maintained in order to assure that all Idahoans still have the opportunity to watch IPTV without having to live in metropolitan areas of our state."

Ringo sits on the joint House-Senate budget committee that listened to Morrill's pitch for continued state funding on Wednesday. Ringo said she has gotten "many, many messages asking for support" from her constituents.

"It is definitely for the public good," she said.

Other lawmakers have said they've been inundated with messages of support for public television. The Friends of IPTV has started a Web site at http://www.saveidahopublictelevision.com and a Facebook page.

Idaho's commercial television stations are also showing solidarity with IPTV. In a statement, the Idaho State Broadcasters Association said the network provides commercial broadcasters with educated employees through student training at its stations at the University of Idaho and Idaho State University.

Those educational stations could close if the state pulls its funding, Morrill said.

The Idaho State Broadcasters Association also said public television complements commercial television and radio by "providing coverage and feeds from state government activities, statewide emergency alert services, and preschool through adult educational services."

Evans said political opposition to what Otter often calls "government television" is misguided.

"I think there are times when people see, on any television program, some things they may not like or may not approve of," he said. "But if you look in the broad picture, public television has had one of the most wholesome schedules of programs that serve everyone from early childhood to senior citizens."

He also called erroneous Otter's argument that a proliferation of channels on cable and satellite networks precludes the need for public television.

"He talks about them as if they are one and the same," Evans said of commercial and public television. "And they are not. Public television has a broad mission to inform, educate and entertain that is entirely different."

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Mills may be contacted at jmills@lmtribune.com or (208) 883-0564.


Originally posted at http://www.lmtribune.com/story/northwest/503163/

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